The woman steering 'army of heroes' to keep community ticking

Community hero, Bryony Peall of Benhall, operations co-ordinator for IP17 GNS (Good Neighbour Scheme

Bryony Peall has been supporting her community in Saxmundham - Credit: Denise Bradley

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the best of many people volunteering and working in Suffolk's communities.

No-one embodies that more than Bryony Peall from Benhall.

Miss Peall is the co-ordinator of IP17 GNS; the group has been leading the community response to the coronavirus in Saxmundham and the surrounding area since the pandemic began.

It gives help to those who might need prescriptions collecting or just a friendly voice at the end of a phone.  

And Miss Peall is its heartbeat.

"I'm coming up with the ideas or listening to the volunteers' ideas and actioning as many as we can to help support the community," she said.

Miss Peall has been involved in the project nearly the entire time it's been running, having seen a call for help on Facebook. 

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She has played a number of important community roles over the years, from working with the St John's Ambulance to working in the care sector.

Her other main work is in event management which has all but stopped as a result of the pandemic. 

"The town council were approaching me because they knew my work had stopped," said Miss Peall. 

"They knew that I knew a lot of people in Saxmundham and had connections in all sorts of directions.

"I just know a huge proportion of the population we are dealing with."

Miss Peall started by working 15 hours a week on the scheme, but it soon turned into a full-time role.

On a typical day she looks after 100 volunteers. 

In December the group also had a big Christmas project which saw them deliver 200 meals out on Christmas Day. 

"I thought we were going to get a bit of a break after," said Miss Peall. 

"But it's been equally crazy."

The third lockdown has seen the service as busy as ever. 

"This one seems to have affected our service users a lot more," said Miss Peall. 

"We have found that they have needed a lot more support."

Before lockdown the group were working to help people get out and about more with exercise classes and line dancing, which became 'ridiculously popular'.

Now, however, they have been dealing with people who have more needs. 

The team are being given basic training on how to help people with mental health needs not as psychiatrists but to help those that they come across in their work.  

"I want them to be given the tools so that they can cope with really difficult conversations," said Miss Peall. 

The training is possible because of the former health staff the group have among their volunteers. 

"We have got a really good team of people with a huge amount of skills," said Miss Peall. 

With so much work to do in and around the town, it's the people that the scheme helps that have kept Miss Peall going. 

"Everybody needs us," said Miss Peall.

"I just really love being around here and love the people that we are serving. 

"The people are really grateful and it's been so heart-warming.

"I have grown up here and a lot of them know me and they know my family.

"It's just such a really lovely community and the way that everybody has pulled together is amazing."

Miss Peall's team are also an important source of motivation in her work. 

"I don't feel like a hero," said Miss Peall. 

"I feel like I am steering an army of heroes. They are just amazing, the whole volunteer team.

"I'm just so proud of living here.

"I must say a huge thank you from me to all of our volunteers."

Miss Peall's mother was also a well known volunteer in the town and her work has a great impact on her daughter. 

"I wanted to make her proud even though she's not here," said Miss Peall. 

Initially, it was thought that the project would last no longer than three months. 

Instead, Saxmundham Town Council are looking at ways to help the scheme continue. 

"The calls are still coming in," said Miss Peall. 

"It just seems that we are very much still needed.

"So that's what gets me out of bed everyday."

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